Nursing directors who preside over organisations delivering poor care and neglect could face criminal prosecution in future, health minister Norman Lamb has said.
Speaking to Nursing Times following last week’s Liberal Democrat conference in Glasgow, Mr Lamb revealed more details of the government’s plans to introduce tougher penalties following poor care.
The move forms part of the government’s response to the public inquiry into care failings at the Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust. A key recommendation in the inquiry report was the introduction of new fundamental standards of care which, if breached, could lead to prosecution.
Inquiry chair Robert Francis QC suggested examples of breaches could include patients being unnecessarily left in soiled beds. He wanted the threat of criminal action to extend not only to the organisation but to individual frontline members of staff.
The government has previously said it would introduce fundamental standards of care, and Mr Lamb revealed they would be backed by the threat of criminal sanctions, including for individual directors.
He told Nursing Times: “The powers to prosecute for what is essentially an offence of corporate neglect will apply to both the corporate body or the NHS trust or a director.
“The problem we have had is that the regulatory system for holding organisations to account has been flawed from the start.
“In the past, as long the organisation complied with a warning notice from the Care Quality Commission they couldn’t be prosecuted. For me that has to change,” he said. “The change we are making will apply to individual directors.”
Mr Lamb noted that ministers were still finalising their full response to the Francis report into Mid Staffordshire, which is due to be published later this year and will include the policy on criminal sanctions. The government made its initial response to the report in March.
Robert Francis QC said NHS staff should face prosecution for the most serious neglect and abuse of patients and warned public confidence in the service could “evaporate” without it. He said the likely number of prosecutions would be extremely small, but the existence of a criminal sanction would focus the system on improving patient safety and quality of care.
However, the government has so far not made a decision on criminal action against staff below director level.
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